41 minutes ago
Sunday, December 12, 2010
The Night Mail
The New World depends on the timely delivery mail of over large distances. Unfortunately, large swathes of the continent are mostly unsettled, only cut by lone railways, or haphazard auto trails. Bandits, hostile Native tribes, and wandering monsters still harry travellers in much the West, while malevolent storms and ravenous zombies menace the Dustlands. The skies have often become the best option.
The Union has a postal service, but it relies on private contractors to carry air mail. Many of these companies are small operations, or even sole propietorships. The pilots are typically recruited from the ranks of barnstorming daredevils or veterans of the Great War. Their planes are often rickety and aging, held together by paint and wishful thinking.
The larger, or more reckless, operations run night and day. Coast-to-coast routes can be flown by most carriers in around 30 hours, pilots staying awake with black coffee and alchemical stimulants. Larger (and much more expensive) planes can make the trip in less than twenty. The smaller planes go from the City to San Tiburon in jumps--making deliveries in the Steel League, Lake City, and some Western cow-towns along the way.
That's assuming the planes make it safely. Aviation is a dangerous business in the best of conditions, and conditions are seldom the best. Thunderbirds hunt western skies, wings crackling with St. Elmo’s fire, riding the storms their presence invokes. Air-bandits strike from mountain hideouts, or (it’s rumored) cloud-hidden flying fortresses, to down and loot commercial planes. The whispered come-ons of slyphs seduce lonely aviators to their doom. Elemental storms smash aircraft out of spite.
Then there’s the strange fauna of the upper air. Eerily translucent, gelatinous predators, like something out the ocean depths, which drift downward in response to air vibrations, and almost certainly, magical energies.
Thamaturgical enhancements can, and have, improved aircraft engines and systems, but their use is limited for safety reasons. Magic energies tend to attract dangerous para-elementals of lightning (or electricity)--entities called gremlins or glitches by those in aviation. Their very nature disrupts electrical equipment; and their chaotic anti-potential can disrupt mechanical devices, and react with thamaturgical equipment in unpredictable ways.
Their presence interacts with the human mind, too. Pilots who have suffered gremlin attacks often report hallucinating outlandish, colorful, diminutive creatures--if they survive the encounter.